At some point in his cricketing life, William Clarke of Old Basford added the middle name ‘Benjamin’ – whether to distinguish himself from his near contemporary from Kirkby or from William Clarke, the ‘father of Trent Bridge’, is not clear - but given that he claimed to be the nephew of that William, though no evidence is available, the latter seems more likely.
What is known is that William Benjamin Clarke appeared for the county v XVI of Derbyshire in 1874 without having been through any Colts matches or trials. He acquitted himself well enough – figures of 5-19 in the Derby first innings – to play in Nottinghamshire’s next match v MCC at Lord’s, his First-Class debut. In neither this game nor his second such fixture was he asked to bowl so the two games scarcely constituted a reasonable trial. When he did get to bowl, against a Derbyshire XI in 1875, he again had good figures, taking 5-39.
In the nine First-Class games he played that season, he got his best figures for Notts – against Gloucestershire at Trent Bridge he took 5-19 - and he made his top score, 40, v Surrey at The Oval. Clarke’s last appearance for the county was versus Lancashire at Trent Bridge in 1876. In his 13 First-Class games for Nottinghamshire he made 134 runs at 7.05 and took 25 wickets at 12.92.
He was engaged at Plymouth from 1866-72 and then with the West of Scotland club between 1873 and 1877; with this club he had a very good season in 1876, taking 124 wickets for 867 runs.
Clarke took up the post of coach to Harrow School in 1878 and thus had residential qualification for Middlesex; typically, his debut for his new county was against his old one. The seven wickets he took for 51 runs in Nottinghamshire’s first innings turned out to be the best return of his First-Class cricket. He played more than 20 games for his adopted county, the last being against Gloucestershire at Cheltenham in August 1884. His complete First-Class record reads: 39 matches, 64 innings, 409 runs at 8.01 and top score 40; 101 wickets at 17.23 and 38 catches taken.
As that number of catches suggests, he was reckoned to be an excellent fielder as well as a useful right-hand bet and a good medium-fast round-arm bowler. Lillywhite’s said of him: “…has displayed his prowess in fielding and catching, at which latter accomplishment he is unsurpassed.”
Whilst playing in Scotland, he lived in Partick and had a cricket shop and billiards room. A match, the Gentlemen of Scotland v the Players of Scotland was staged twice for his benefit in the 1870s. Later, after leaving Harrow, he was landlord of the Clayton Arms, adjacent to The Oval.
Clarke became a First-Class umpire and stood in more than 100 First-Class and representative games from 1882 until 1899.
Although not related – as far as can be established – to either of the other William Clarkes to play for Notts, he did have a brother, Samuel, and a nephew – yet another William – who each played for Staffordshire; his son, Charles, born whilst William was living and playing in Scotland, played First-Class cricket for Sussex and Lancashire.
William Benjamin Clarke was born at Old Basford on Bonfire Night 1846 and died at Hyson Green, Nottingham, on 18 August 1902.
Nottinghamshire First-Class Number: 139